Russian Troops Invade Chechnya

Russian troops invaded Chechnya in an attempt to prevent the province’s secession, but the invasion failed to end the independence movement and further eroded the popularity of Russian president Boris Yeltsin.

Summary of Event

On December 11, 1994, Russian president Boris Yeltsin ordered Russian forces to invade the province of Chechnya, in the Caucasus region of southern Russia, in order to end the separatist movement led by Dzhokhar M. Dudayev. Dudayev, a major general in the Soviet air force, had taken advantage of the turmoil that followed the failed coup attempt against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev Gorbachev, Mikhail in August of 1991 to seize power in Chechnya and assert its independence. Chechnya;Russian invasion
Russia;invasion of Chechnya
First Chechen War (1994-1996)
[kw]Russian Troops Invade Chechnya (Dec. 11, 1994)
[kw]Troops Invade Chechnya, Russian (Dec. 11, 1994)
[kw]Invade Chechnya, Russian Troops (Dec. 11, 1994)
[kw]Chechnya, Russian Troops Invade (Dec. 11, 1994)
Chechnya;Russian invasion
Russia;invasion of Chechnya
First Chechen War (1994-1996)
[g]Europe;Dec. 11, 1994: Russian Troops Invade Chechnya[09030]
[g]Russia;Dec. 11, 1994: Russian Troops Invade Chechnya[09030]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Dec. 11, 1994: Russian Troops Invade Chechnya[09030]
[c]Military history;Dec. 11, 1994: Russian Troops Invade Chechnya[09030]
Chernomyrdin, Viktor
Dudayev, Dzhokhar M.
Grachev, Pavel S.
Yeltsin, Boris

The invasion of 1994 was a dramatic episode in a long and troubled relationship between the Chechens and the Russians. During this prolonged struggle, the Chechens and the related Ingush, between the seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries, converted to Islam. Islam, in its Sunni form with militant Sufi brotherhoods, subsequently became a central component of Chechen identity. In 1783, a Chechen named Mansur led the first unified Caucasian resistance against the Russians. After Mansur, the Chechens were rallied by Shamil, an Avar from Dagestan.

Although Chechnya was formally subdued in 1859, the region experienced periodic uprisings and resistance to Russian rule. During World War II, the Chechens and other Caucasian peoples were charged with collaboration with the Nazis and were subjected to a genocidal deportation to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Some estimates of the number of Chechens who died during the brutal process of forced movement run as high as 300,000. Grozny, the principal Chechen city, already largely Russian, was settled with Russians, and Russians and Dagestani were settled elsewhere in Chechnya.

The Chechens were not rehabilitated until 1956, during Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev’s Khrushchev, Nikita S.
[p]Khrushchev, Nikita S.;de-Stalinization[destalinization] campaign of de-Stalinization, De-Stalinization[Destalinization] when they were allowed to return to the reestablished Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1957. The republic was one of the least developed in Russia. Industry and the service sector provided employment for only 40 percent of the population. Despite one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the Soviet Union and one of the lowest life expectancies, the Chechen population grew. Subjected to derision by Russians, who considered Chechens to be culturally backward and socially inferior, the Chechens nevertheless controlled access to oil reserves that were of strategic interest to the Soviet Union.

Even after Joseph Stalin’s death, Chechens were not often chosen to serve as administrators in the republic. The legacy of the deportations and the desire of the Chechens to control their future and to profit from new opportunities converged in the chaos of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. On September 15, 1991, the self-styled Executive Committee of the All National Congress of the Chechen People, headed by Dudayev, forced the disbanding of the Supreme Soviet of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic, claiming that the Supreme Soviet had supported the attempted August coup in the Soviet Union.

On October 27, Dudayev was elected president of Chechnya by 84 percent of the electorate. Although the Ingush refused to join the Chechens, Dudayev declared Chechnya to be a sovereign state on November 1, 1991. Yeltsin declared a state of emergency on November 8 and sent troops to Grozny. The Russians, however, completely underestimated their opponents and bungled the execution of their effort to crush Chechen separatism.

Dudayev, who dissolved the Chechen parliament on July 4, 1993, and assumed dictatorial powers, had numerous opponents in Chechnya. As Yeltsin’s popularity plummeted in the wake of his October, 1993, attack on the Russian parliament, Yeltsin sought to use Dudayev’s opponents as his proxies. If Yeltsin could reassert Russian authority in Chechnya, Russia would control the crucial pipeline connecting the oil of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to the Black Sea. Success against the Chechens would bolster Yeltsin against his nationalist opponents in the Russian parliament, which was elected in December of 1993. Despite Dudayev’s willingness to accept a degree of local control short of secession, Yeltsin decided to move because of his own interests. The Russian Interior Ministry forces and their Chechen collaborators, however, were humiliatingly defeated in a raid held on November 28, 1994, the fifth failed Russian attempt to oust Dudayev.

Pavel S. Grachev, the Russian defense minister, now decided that the honor of Russia’s military was at stake. As Yeltsin retreated to the cover of a hospital, Russian forces launched their invasion on December 11, 1994. Three columns were to converge on Grozny. The plan was to allow Dudayev and his followers to withdraw to the mountains in the south, where they would be cut off and eventually forced to submit. The attack went awry from the start, however. The invasion united the Chechens and won them the sympathy of other Caucasian Muslims.

Faced with additional humiliation, Grachev assumed personal control of the campaign and ordered one of the most difficult military tasks, the taking of a city street by street. He had earlier predicted that Chechnya would be pacified in forty-eight hours. He now asserted that Grozny would be taken in two hours. The result was disaster. Isolated Russian units were decimated, and the Chechens, who were able to resupply their units at night, resisted for a month. The presidential palace, from which Dudayev directed resistance, held until January 19. The Russians were eventually forced to use their artillery and airpower to level much of the city. By the end of the month, some twenty-five thousand civilians had been killed. Russia had lost at least eighteen hundred soldiers and perhaps as many as five thousand, according to some sources, and the Chechens had lost eight thousand fighters. The Chechens finally pulled out, but they continued their stubborn resistance from the countryside. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin’s desire for peace talks and Dudayev’s willingness to negotiate were thwarted by the war party surrounding Yeltsin.

Russian attacks on Chechen villages continued through the spring. Then, on the eve of the June 14 summit of the G7 (Group of Seven) nations in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Shamil Basayev led an attack on Budyonnovsk, located two hundred miles inside Russia. Basayev, whose eleven female cousins had been raped and murdered by Russians, assumed the role of the Chechen abreg, or bandit of honor, who pursued the Chechen clan tradition of vendetta to the seventh generation. The Chechens, who had bribed their way past Russian security forces, killed twenty Russian policemen and held two thousand people hostage in a hospital. After an inept Russian assault that led to more Russian deaths, Chernomyrdin negotiated on live television for release of the hostages. The Chechens were allowed free passage back to Chechnya, and a cease-fire was negotiated. Yeltsin, who had left the country during the crisis, saw his popularity further eroded and suffered a heart attack.

The cease-fire quickly broke down. Despite the fact that Russia committed fifty-eight thousand troops—forty thousand from the regular army and eighteen thousand from the Interior Ministry—it was not able to pacify or secure Chechnya. In September, Oleg Lobov, Lobov, Oleg Yeltsin’s personal representative, barely escaped assassination. General Anatoly Romanov, Romanov, Anatoly the Russian commander, was critically wounded in an attack on October 6. On November 20, Doku Zavgayev, Zavgayev, Doku the Russia-appointed Chechen administrator, was injured in an assassination attempt.

In January of 1996, Salman Raduyev Raduyev, Salman led a Chechen assault on Kizlyar, in Dagestan, and took two thousand hostages. After negotiations, Raduyev’s force was promised safe passage back to Chechnya, but they were stopped and surrounded at Pervomayskoye. The incompetence of the Russian forces and the lack of credibility of the Yeltsin administration were obvious in the fiasco that followed. Raduyev and a number of his band, with hostages, eluded the “impenetrable” Russian circle and made it back to Chechnya.

Yeltsin’s desperation was palpable. Following the Communist victory in the parliamentary elections held in December of 1995, Yeltsin said that if he was to win the June presidential election, the struggle in Chechnya had to be brought to an end. He simultaneously called for the execution of Dudayev (who was eventually killed during a missile attack in April, 1996). Yeltsin and Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov Maskhadov, Aslan signed a peace treaty on May 12, 1997, although the independence of Chechnya remained unresolved.


The Chechnya question remained an open sore for both Russia and the world that watched. The crisis was punctuated by another war in 1999, when the Russians undertook a brutal effort to crush a Chechen rebellion in Dagestan. The Russians succeeded in debilitating the rebels but created some 250,000 refugees who fled the fighting.

Having failed in conventional war, some Chechnyans sought peace, whereas others took part in terrorist acts. The latter included such atrocities as the seizure of nearly eight hundred patrons of a Moscow theater in October, 2002; suspected involvement in plane crashes that killed ninety in August, 2004; and the seizure of a school at Beslan, where eleven hundred schoolchildren and adults were held hostage and more than three hundred people ultimately died. Even as progress was made toward political stabilization, passions clearly continued to run high among militants for whom compromise was unthinkable. Chechnya;Russian invasion
Russia;invasion of Chechnya
First Chechen War (1994-1996)

Further Reading

  • Avtorkhanov, Abdurahman. “The Chechens and the Ingush During the Soviet Period.” In The North Caucasus Barrier, edited by Marie Broxup. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. Presents an account of the Chechens under Soviet rule, including the deportations of 1943.
  • Gall, Carlotta, and Thomas de Waal. Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus. New York: New York University Press, 1998. Account by two journalists who covered the conflict for the Moscow Times provides a historical overview as well as detailed discussion of the events of the war. Includes maps, bibliographic notes, and index.
  • Goldenberg, Suzanne. Pride of Small Nations: The Caucasus and Post-Soviet Disorder. London: Zed Books, 1994. Provides background material and a history of the Chechen declaration of independence and the Russian reaction.
  • Mesbahi, Mohiaddin, ed. Central Asia and the Caucasus After the Soviet Union: Domestic and International Dynamics. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994. Collection of essays covers various facets of the state of the Caucasus after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Chapter by Marie Bennigsen Broxup provides information on the history and culture of Chechnya and the independence movement up to November of 1991.
  • Nichols, Johanna. “Who Are the Chechens?” IREX News in Brief, January/February, 1995, 3-4. A professor of linguistics presents ethnographic and historical information on the Chechens.
  • Smith, Sebastian. Allah’s Mountains: The Battle for Chechnya. New York: I. B. Tauris, 1998. Journalistic work describes the conflict between Russians and Chechens and also provides historical background on the people and cultures of the Caucasus. Includes maps, bibliography, and index.

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